Santa Monica College (SMC) has announced its selection by NASA’s Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) as one of four community colleges nationwide to receive a MUREP Community College Curriculum Improvement (MC3I) grant. The grant will provide SMC up to $250,000 per year for a maximum of three years to provide training for professors teaching Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) courses and expand STEM course offerings at the college.

“We are a perfect fit for this grant,” said Jeffery Shimizu, SMC Interim President. “Santa Monica College is dedicated to advancing achievement for our underrepresented minority students – and this includes bringing more of them into STEM-related majors. We are excited to see how this will not only enhance our students’ preparation for careers NASA will benefit from, but also close the achievement gap.”

A historically minority-serving institution, SMC has a successful and growing STEM program in a partnership with the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), funded by a five-year $5.8 million grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education in 2011. The program – known as the Science and Research Initiative (SRI) – provides specialized courses, free tutoring and academic support, and research opportunities at UCLA in collaboration with its Center for Community College Partnerships and the Undergraduate Research Center.

This year, 176 students – 50% identifying as Latino or Hispanic, 9% African-American, 48% female, and 52% low-income – enrolled in SMC’s STEM-SRI. 18 SMC students were selected by UCLA to work as paid research interns for 10 weeks, and 50 of them attended a week-long research residency, also at UCLA. Approximately 82% of STEM students admitted in the 2013 and 2014 academic years have succeeded in STEM Courses at SMC.

“Santa Monica College presented a meritorious proposal,” said Joeletta Patrick, MUREP Manager at NASA. “NASA MUREP recognizes the particular importance of minority-serving community colleges for the participation of students traditionally underserved and underrepresented in higher education… they constitute the largest and most dynamic segment of post-secondary education in the U.S.”

SMC will use its NASA MUREP MC3I grant to provide opportunities for students and faculty to get hands-on experience in the development and operation of an instrument that will collect data in space, said SMC Geology professor Dr. Cara Thompson, who will serve as principal investigator for the grant.

“We hope to contextualize student learning of important STEM skills as well as expand our course offerings and other activities to provide SMC students with tools required to pursue a NASA-related career,” said Dr. Thompson. “We will achieve this through partnerships with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, UCLA, and the University of Southern California, among others.”

The awards were made through the 2014 Education Opportunities in NASA Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (EONS STEM) research program, which aims to expand the nation’s base for aerospace research and development, increase participation by minority serving institutions, and increase the number of degrees in NASA-related fields awarded to students from these institutions.

The other three community colleges that also received a MUREP MC31 grant were Baltimore City Community College, Napa Valley College, and Queensborough Community College.

For information on activities related to SMC’s MUREP MC31 grant, contact Dr. Cara Thompson at (310) 434-4877 or Thompson_Cara@smc.edu. For more information on SMC’s STEM-SRI program, visit www.smc.edu/STEM.

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